Hundreds of Looted Artifacts Returned to Iraq

Iraqi officials have announced the return of hundreds of artifacts looted during the Iraq war that had ended up in the U.S. and other countries.
Many of the 542 pieces date to 2,000 B.C. and were stolen when the Iraqi National Museum and various archaeological sites were looted after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Some were taken earlier.

But Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie, who appeared Tuesday at a ceremony displaying the items in Baghdad, said a previous shipment of 632 antiquities recovered in the U.S. is still missing after being delivered to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office last year. Sumaidaie has not directly accused Mr. al-Maliki of malfeasance.

Only half of the 15,000 items stolen from Iraq after the invasion have been recovered.

The most prominent of Tuesday’s returned items,

a headless 4,400-year-old statue of King Entemena of Lagash, is the oldest known representation of a monarch from ancient Mesopotamia. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation had listed the theft of the statue, weighing over 136 kilograms, among the world’s top 10 art crimes. It was recovered in a 2006 U.S. sting operation.
An even older pair of gold earrings from the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, stolen from the National Museum in the 1990s and seized in New York City last year before being auctioned , were also returned.

The New York Times newspaper also reported the return of 362 cuneiform clay tablets smuggled out of Iraq before the invasion, then seized by U.S. authorities and rescued from the ruins of the World Trade Center, where they had been stored.

Ancient cylindrical seals used by the Sumerians were also displayed at Tuesday’s ceremony.

Among the newest pieces returned to Iraq is a chrome-plated AK-47 machine gun with a pearl hand grip and an image of Saddam Hussein that belonged to the former Iraqi dictator. The assault rifle had been taken by an American soldier as a war trophy and was retrieved by U.S. customs agents from an army base in Washington.

The U.S. military was heavily criticized for not protecting the Iraqi National Museum’s relics and art after Baghdad fell in 2003. Thieves ransacked the collection, stealing or destroying priceless artifacts that chronicled some 7,000 years of civilization in Mesopotamia, including the ancient Babylonians, Sumerians and Assyrians.

Some information in this story was provided by AP and Reuters.